"Do I Need an Attorney?" Insurance Companies Don't Think So!

Consider the following hypothetical: You are in a car accident and it is the other driver's fault. You make a claim with the other driver's insurance carrier, Allstate Insurance, which promptly sends you a flier entitled "Do I Need an Attorney?" The flier extolls the benefits of not hiring an attorney in negotiation and settlement of your claim. The flier states that claims are resolved faster without attorneys and Allstate will treat you as if you are their "customer" (thus ignoring the inherent conflict of interest), you should sign authorizations allowing Allstate to obtain your medical records, and that Allstate will conduct prompt investigations on your behalf.

Initially, you are receptive to the idea, and believe that you are fully capable of handling it without an attorney. Plus, the Claims Representative is nice and seems to be looking out for your best interests.

Then, in your research, you discover something that Allstate won't tell you: the "nice" Claims Representative has been trained with a series of telephone scripts and form letters aimed at convincing you not to hire an attorney. He has been taught to speak to you with empathy in order to gain your trust and make you feel as if Allstate will be your advocate, not your adversary (which is the reality of the relationship). In fact, you even discover that the Claims Representative will be rewarded with a bonus if you do not hire an attorney.

Allstate's actions beg the question: Why are they putting so much effort into discouraging accident victims from hiring an attorney? The reason is pure and simple, and hardly surprising: so that Allstate can pay you less money. And that's not just the opinion of a trial attorney that's based on a 1995 Allstate internal training document, which contains statistics demonstrating that when lawyers represent claimants, the settlement is two to three times higher than when claimants represent themselves. According to the manual, in settlements under $15,000, claimants without attorneys averaged $3,464. Those with counsel averaged $7,450. Even with the standard 33% attorney fee contingency, claimants make out much better having legal representation. But Allstate won't tell you that.

Allstate's tactics are deceptive, illegal and spawned lawsuits in several states on behalf of deceived claimants. A judge Pennsylvania stated: "without the benefit of an attorney to review the documents, the claimant could lose any benefit in a settlement and the information could be used against him or her if the matter went to litigation." The judge concluded that Allstate's activities were willful and designed to boost its bottom line by urging victims to forego legal representation. In litigation in Connecticut, Allstate's attorney unbelievably argued that Allstate has no legal duty "to settle fairly with third-party claimants" despite what it tells them.

What's the lesson? In all matters involving an insurance claim, never deal directly with the insurer without first consulting an attorney. Their adjusters are professional negotiators trained to get you to forgo your legal rights and ultimately accept less than you may be entitled to and regardless of what they tell you, it is their "bottom line" not yours that they will protect.